Exercise can actually increase the size of your brain

Aerobic Exercise Can Help Preserve Brain Area Key to Memory

Aerobic Exercise Can Help Preserve Brain Area Key to Memory

In a first of its kind global collaboration, researchers from Australia's National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom examined the effects of aerobic exercise on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is critical for memory and other brain functions.

Normally, brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by approximately five per cent per decade after the age of 40.

The new study's authors discovered that while exercise had no effect on total hippocampal volume, it significantly increase the size of the left region of the hippocampus in humans.

The subjects ranged in age from 24 to 76 with an average age of 66 and included both healthy participants as well as those with mild cognitive impairments (like Alzheimer's) and those with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness (like depression and schizophrenia).

The researchers looked at the effects on the participants of various exercises including cycling on an exercise bike, walking and running on a treadmill for between three and 24 months, with sessions taking place between 2 and 5 times a week.

By the end of the 14 clinical trials, researchers found that even though exercise didn't have an impact on the overall size of the hippocampus (the part of your brain that controls memory), the left region of it actually did get bigger.

Previous studies in mice and rats have shown that exercise increases hippocampus size, but until now, the evidence in humans has been inconsistent. "In other words, exercise can be seen as a maintenance program for the brain".

"When you exercise, you produce a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which may help to prevent age-related decline by reducing the deterioration of the brain", said Joseph Firth, researcher at the Western Sydney University in Australia.

Firth says that along with improving regular healthy aging, the results have implications for the prevention of aging-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia. However, so far physical exercise is one of the very few "proven" ways maintaining brain size and functioning into older age.

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